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Milwaukee Aldermen Approve Stop-And-Frisk Settlement

The Milwaukee Common Council Tuesday settled a lawsuit related to police practices

Milwaukee aldermen have approved a nearly $3.5 million settlement, related to the former police chief’s policy of routine traffic stops in high-crime areas. Edward Flynn set up the program in hopes that the practice would significantly reduce violent crime. But, the ACLU of Wisconsin filed a federal class action lawsuit last year. The organization claimed the policy amounted to thousands of illegal “stop and frisks” of African-American and Latino residents. The vote Tuesday followed a sometimes bitter debate.

The ACLU filed the lawsuit on behalf of a half dozen people who claimed they were stopped once or multiple times since 2010. The settlement calls for the Milwaukee Police Department to document every stop in the future and regularly release the data. Officers would also receive training and supervision on racial profiling. The Common Council approved the settlement 12-2, with one alderman absent. Alderwoman Milele Coggs voted in favor of it – she says she hopes it closes a sad chapter in the city’s history.

“So that we never again are back at the same situation that we were at, where there is even a possibility that whoever is chief instituting practices and policies with the department that end up with us being in lawsuits where there is even the suggestion of racial profiling. That’s an end I would think we all want to get to, to prevent future lawsuits,” Coggs says.

Another person upset about practices, under former police chief Edward Flynn, was Ald. Russell Stamper. He gave suggestions in case more accusations of police misconduct surface in the future. For instance, Stamper says the department could cover its own insurance costs -- and foot the bill for settlements.

“Either you self-insure yourself police department or you remain the same and officers are held accountable and severely disciplined, or if you do misconduct, it’s coming out of your budget,” Stamper says.

Bob Donovan was one of two aldermen voting against the settlement. The other was Mark Borkowski. Donovan seemed appalled by the hefty price tag. Before the vote, he noted the $3.4 million is part of a long line of payouts the city has had to make for police misconduct claims.

“With this passage and I’m sure these items will pass Council, we will have arrived at approximately $23 million in police misconduct settlements since 2015. That’s an astronomical number,” Donovan says.

Donovan said he fears the impact the settlements could have on the police districts and neighborhoods. He says officers might not want to pursue suspects with the vigor they once did, out of fear their actions will result in a lawsuit.

“I’m worried that officers will just put the blinders on and drive by if they can get away with it,” Donovan says.

Donovan also took the city attorney’s office to task, for what he perceives as its willingness to settle lawsuits for high amounts. Meanwhile, Ald. Michael Murphy shared a more moderate view of the settlement. He voted in favor of the agreement, noting the proposed original cost was $6 million. He says the city was able to whittle down the amount in negotiations – to $3.4 million. Murphy says he believes former police chief Edward Flynn had good intentions when he implemented the policy.

“Part of his rationale was trying to get a large number of guns off the streets of Milwaukee and in fact per capita, we took more guns off the street than practically any city in the United States,” Murphy says.

Under terms of the agreement the Common Council approved Tuesday, a consulting firm would monitor the progress of future police practices. Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett was expected to immediately sign off on the settlement.

Marti was a reporter with WUWM from 1999 to 2021.
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